The tool I use for this blog tells me, among other things, the search terms that brought people to my posts. One last week was so sad. “How much longer before emergency unemployment is extended.”
Sad because I suspect the query writer had a personal interest. Sadder because I haven’t the foggiest — and no one else does either. Saddest because I’m not sure Emergency Unemployment Compensation will be extended.
On the upside of this ongoing saga, the bipartisan Senate group agreed on some improvements to the bill I last wrote about. And the Senate will pass the bill today — perhaps before you read this — since six Republicans joined all Democrats in agreeing on the motion to vote.
On the downside, we’ve no evidence that House Speaker John Boehner will permit a vote on the bill. And he’s seized on a new reason, though it’s obvious any reason would do.
What the Senate Passed
Like the previous version, the final Senate bill renews EUC for five months, back-dated to the time it expired.
Unlike the previous version, the offsets no longer include any erosion in SSI (Supplemental Security Income) benefits. We’ve instead got another of those pension accounting devices — perhaps not the most fiscally responsible pay-for, but it gets the job done without hurting anybody.
A provision that required agencies to assess the reasons a jobless worker was still unemployed is gone — perhaps because negotiators realized how absurd it was at a time when there are only 40% as many job openings and people looking.
Also gone is a related provision requiring agencies to develop specific action plans for all EUC recipients — a daunting task for agencies that have been under-funded for a long time and will have extra work due to the benefits lapse.
Some other provisions related to “work suitability,” job searches and the like have been replaced by a benign mandate for a Government Accountability Office study.
But the ban on federally-funded unemployment benefits for millionaires and billionaires is still there — one of those cheap political gestures, like the ban on food stamps for lottery winners. A small price to pay, I suppose, but a bad precedent for a social insurance program.
Over in the House
As I’ve written before, Speaker Boehner has drawn a line in the sand. A bill to renew EUC must not only be paid for, but paired with other measures that “will get our economy moving again.”
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office earlier concluded that a year-long EUC extension would boost the economy and create as many as 300,000 jobs. But that apparently won’t do.
What would do isn’t clear. Boehner is still just saying he’s got to see something that “would help the economy and help people get back to work.”
He has, however, made occasional references to “dozens of bills” House Republicans have passed, e.g. to hamstring the regulatory agencies, block grant (and freeze funding for) job training programs and, needless to say, repeal the Affordable Care Act.
He now has a new arrow in his quiver, thanks to what seems to have been an ill-advised letter from the National Association of State Workforce Agencies. Giving the organization the benefit of the doubt here, since anyone with a grain of political sense would have known how the letter would be used.
Briefly, NASWA cites administrative challenges that could lead to delays in implementing the EUC renewal legislation, along with a potential for some overpayments.
No one, to my knowledge, has said it would be quick and easy, though it surely would have been if Republicans had quickly agreed to support a renewal.
Yet state agencies have successfully implemented retroactive extensions before. The Secretary of Labor cites twelve, including some with changes that “were as or more complex than those included in the current bill.”
And unless I’m mistaken, the final version of the bill addresses some of the specific concerns the state agencies raised — notably how to deal with the millionaire ban.
Boehner nevertheless insists that the bill is “unworkable,” citing the NASWA letter. The president of the association asserts that the letter didn’t “label” the bill that way — suggesting, at least to me, some second thoughts on the advisability of sending it at all.
The plain truth is that it doesn’t matter. Senator Dean Heller, a lead Republican on the bipartisan team, rightly observes that “no matter what solution is reached, there is some excuse to deny these much-needed benefits.”
So if it isn’t one thing, it will be another — unless and until something happens to persuade enough House Republicans that denying a lifeline to long-term jobless workers and their families is no way to show that the party care about everyday folks.
The stalemate — overcome in the Senate, but not the House — has thus far harmed well over 3.4 million jobless workers. An additional 72,000 join their ranks every week. Their poverty rate nearly doubles.
How much longer will this go on?
UPDATE: Prognosticators, including me, were wrong. The Senate vote on the EUC bill has been postponed until Monday.